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Mar 25, 2015

A small business located in New Castle PA, Ezeflow USA, Inc, recently settled a disability discrimination lawsuit for $65,000 before it went to trial.

On top of the $65,000 settlement and legal fees, the company has agreed to invest further time and money into revising its policies and provide training to its employees. This amount of time and money spent would have a serious impact on just about any small business.

For some, this might put them out of business entirely.

4 things to remember from this case

In this case, an employee (a U.S. Marine Corps veteran) had been with the company only 10 weeks when they began having seizures that were due to service-related disabilities. The employee had a written note from their doctor and requested six weeks of unpaid leave.

The employer decided to fire the employee, citing that he was still a probationary employee. As it turns out, this violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, and so the employer ended up in hot water.

Cases like these continue to happen. It seems there is a lack of understanding of employment rules and regulations in much of the small business community. Unfortunately for businesses owners, ignorance is not a reasonable defense.

So what can we learn from a case like this?

  1. Do your research – It was clear that the business owner did not know the rules surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are numerous rules and regulations that affect the employment relationship. It’s critical for business owners to understand and follow them, or risk the consequences. This is especially important during employment actions such as hiring and termination. If the owner doesn’t take the time to gain this expertise they will need to make sure someone on their staff does.
  2. Don’t act too quickly – In this case the employer acted fairly swiftly without researching the request of the employee. The employer should have spent more time learning about the employee’s condition and how they might help facilitate a quicker recovery. The employee asked for six weeks, but maybe they could have sped this up or started back part-time. A little dialogue might have spared this company.
  3. Partner with experts – Many small business owners are too busy to learn all the rules and regulations and might not have the resources to hire an internal expert. Thankfully there are a number of options for business owners to seek outside help. A quick web search will bring up a number of HR consulting options ranging from online/phone support to on site, part-time help. Adding this layer to your organization should keep you out of harm’s way and allow you to focus on your business.
  4. Keep your policies up to date – Every year there seem to be new rules, and the old ones change constantly. Many business owners take the important first step to have an employee handbook written, but fail to update it regularly. As mentioned earlier, ignorance is not a defense, and just because your policies were up to date at one time, this doesn’t mean you are automatically covered. By utilizing an internal resource or external help, businesses should regularly review and update all of their employment policies.

Running a business can be a scary endeavor. There will always be a certain amount of risk, but it can be a lot less risky if you pay close attention to your employment policies and practices.

This was originally published on the Genesis HR Solutions blog.

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